The idea of personal branding has been around for quite some time.
William Arruda, commonly referred to as the “father of personal branding,” has been a champion of the concept since 1997. Back then—before LinkedIn and even Google—personal brands looked a lot different. Your brand was strongly tied to your personality and the way you presented yourself in a room full of people.
Today, in our digital-first world, your brand largely exists online. First impressions are commonly made through LinkedIn profiles, Google search results and social media channels.
Although PR professionals and marketers understand the importance of first impressions, many still have room to improve their personal brands.
I recently spoke with Arruda about his more than two decades of experience in personal branding, including 360Reach, a personal branding survey more than two million professionals have used to expand their careers and businesses and his Reach Personal Branding Certification Program, which has been completed by more than 1,000 professionals.
Here’s what he has to say about establishing a strong digital brand:.
You’ve got one chance to hook a new reader, customer, follower or fan—and that’s where having a strong, compelling online personal brand comes into play.
“People are meeting you first online, and if that first impression is lackluster, then that’s it,” Arruda says. “If you have a lackluster profile that really doesn’t explain your differentiator, then I’m not going to get too excited about you. That’s who I’m going to believe you are. Forever.”
Even if you’re not a business owner or entrepreneur, your personal brand plays an important role in your career. When a new employee joins your team, you probably Google their name before you stop by their cubicle.
“You need to build your brand right away online so you can start attracting people the same way you would in the real world, because everything has moved online,” Arruda says.
Ask the expert
Here’s what Arruda recommends—and has recommended in well over a thousand keynotes and workshops on this topic to big brands, including BP, Disney, Google and Target:
- Stop trying to do too much.
When you start building your personal brand, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of digital platforms at your disposal. You’ve got Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and even newer platforms like TikTok.
But don’t feel like you need to be everywhere at once. If you’re just getting started, here’s Arruda’s advice for PR pros: Focus on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is a powerful, authoritative platform, and contains a lot of “Google juice.” If you have a LinkedIn profile and someone Googles you, your profile will likely show up in one of the top three spots, and people will click.
“If you want to influence people, it’s not like you have to be on Instagram and Pinterest and Facebook and LinkedIn and YouTube,” Arruda says. “Just make sure you’re at least on LinkedIn and that you’ve built a stellar profile that’s credible and likable.”
- Flaunt your “unique ingredient.”
Truth be told, there are plenty of PR professionals and marketers who do what you do. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you’ll want to identify your differentiator.
“Every single person has this unique ingredient to offer the world,” Arruda says. “When they’re willing to do that and just put it out there, they’re going to be happier, and the world’s going to benefit from that.”
This might be where imposter syndrome starts to seep in, but don’t let it. Arruda says, “You don’t have to be the most amazing person in the world with 8,852 accomplishments and a magna cum laude degree from Harvard or any of that kind of stuff.”
- Translate your real world persona to “bytes and bits.”
When you meet and interact with someone in person, it’s easier for them to understand your personality, your sense of humor and the way you work.
When you make the leap to the digital world—from “flesh and bones to bytes and bits,” as Arruda describes it—you have to undergo what he calls the translation process. Because more people meet you online than in person nowadays, your online brand needs to authentically reflect who you are in the real world. People who meet you online shouldn’t feel surprised when they meet you in person.
“I think the people who get it right are the people who don’t build their brand separately online,” Arruda says. “First, they figure out their real-world brand and engage in that translation process, from who they are in the real world to demonstrating that in the virtual world.”
- Don’t forget to track your metrics.
To determine what metrics you want to track, think about your goals. Do you want to grow your network? Then you might track your LinkedIn connections. Do you want to build your influence within a community? Look at your engagements. Are you hoping to become an expert or thought leader in a particular space? Make note each time you’re quoted on a website or in a magazine.
- Focus on offering value.
When I asked Arruda how he built his network of fans and followers, his response was simple: By giving value.
Before he submits his monthly columns to Forbes, uploads a video to his YouTube channel or posts to LinkedIn, he asks himself: “Is this valuable to my target audience?”
If it ever feels like a personal ego thing—like, “Hey, look how I do this and how great it is! —Arruda says he will scrap the content.
“If you get in the habit of serving your audience—What do they need? What do I have that I can offer them? How can I deliver that to them in a way they can receive it and use it or benefit from it?—people will start to pay attention,” he says.
Don’t forget to keep the conversation going. If someone takes the time to comment on your post, for example, then interact with them. “That’s how relationships are built,” he says.
- Don’t be afraid to repel people. (It’s inevitable.)
Arruda’s final piece of advice? Be your authentic self, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You may feel fearful that not everyone will like you, but that’s OK. Not everyone should like you.
“Often strong brands repel as many people as they attract because they have a point of view,” he says. “It’s not enough to be an expert on a topic, but you really need to have your own take.”
“As soon as you take that position, there are other people who won’t agree, but that’s OK because if you try not to anger anyone, you’re pretty bland, and you’re not going to excite anyone.”